The Robots of Dawn
© 1983 Isaac Asimov
I return to Asimov’s Robots series with the third mystery novel featuring plainclothesman Elijah Baley. Having established a reputation on Earth and elsewhere in the galaxy for his ability to adjust to new situations and earn the trust of “Spacers”, or humans who have lived on other words long enough to develop their own cultures on their various worlds, Baley is asked to travel to Aurora to investigate a case of robotocide. While en route, Baley is delighted to see his old crime-solving partner Daneel Olivaw — an android who was made to look and act human. Daneel is one of a kind, because as we will soon learn, the only other android has been rendered inoperative — and it is that crime which Baley has been called to invesitigate.
Baley and Daneel land in Aurora — the planet of the “dawn”, hence the name — where Baley learns that this case is more complicated than he had imagined. To render a robot inoperative is not a crime, particularly since its owner is the only man with the knowledge and skill sufficient to destroy the robot in the way it was destroyed — but that man, Dr. Han Fastolfe, is Earth’s lone champion on Aurora, the greatest of the Spacer worlds. The fifty “Spacer” worlds are all more technologically advanced than Earth, as Earth’s resources are tied in maintaining its massive population. Technological advances are also actively suppressed by the Spacers, who do not want Earth to begin colonizing space anew and saturating the galaxy with its aggressive and primitive billions. If Fastolfe is implicated in any legal embarrassment, his political opponents can use that to quiet him down and thus maintain Aurora’s policy of restraining Earth. Fastolfe insists that he didn’t do it, forcing Baley to interview both humans and robots in an effort to discern the truth.
Asimov maintains his “unadorned” style and smoothly incorporates information from his Robot stories (“Liar!” and “The Bicentennial Man”) into the plot of his book, having his characters treat them as legends of the past. The Robots of Dawn seems to rely on more characters than The Naked Sun or Caves of Steel. Although this is a perfectly enjoyably mystery novel, what I find most interesting is Asimov’s replication of culture, particularly cultural taboos. Robots of Dawn was as enjoyable as ever, although I think I still prefer The Caves of Steel at this point. I’m interested in reading the final Robots book, Robots and Empire, but don’t have access to it presently.